Relatives of a California teen who they say committed suicide after being taunted with homophobic slurs want to know why school officials didn’t more aggressively address the issue – both online and in the classroom.
German Aramburo-Guzman, 14, started ninth grade at San Diego’s King-Chavez Community High School in August and quickly became the target of bullies, according to his aunt, Katrina Guzman.
“It was verbally, through Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and an anonymous messaging app,” Guzman told KGTV. “He was taunted over homophobic slurs. Kids would make fun of him, the way he looked, the way he acted.”
Guzman said her nephew kept the alleged bullying to himself initially because he feared that reporting it would only make it worse. But his mother eventually visited the school on Nov. 9 after the accused taunting and harassment intensified. During a meeting with a school counselor, Guzman’s mother was told that her son would meet with a counselor moving forward.
“At the time, she left with no answer on how they were going to address the bullying,” Guzman said.
One week later, Guzman said a counselor contacted the teen’s mother to schedule a meeting with her the following day regarding an incident, but the counselor provided little details, she said.
But on Nov. 16, the family says they received the “worst news” that German had committed suicide and blamed the death on “severe bullying at the school.”
“The bullying/cyber bullying he endured from his class peers is absolutely heartbreaking,” reads a GoFundMe site built to help offset funeral costs. “No child should ever have to go through what our beloved German had to. Our family is deeply saddened, but we will be the voice for German and speak up against suicide and bullying.”
The teen, who planned on studying plant ecology after high school, was remembered as a warmhearted student who did well in his classes and added cheer to any setting.
“He was kind, respectful and a joy to be around,” one former teacher posted on the fundraising site. “He never had a negative thing to say about anyone. It breaks my heart that something like this could happen to such a wonderful kid.”
Guzman said her family should have been told about the details pertaining to the alleged incident at school. School officials also could have more aggressively addressed the teen’s bullying complaint as well, she said.
“Schools need better protocols to stop this,” Guzman told KGTV. “Innocent lives are being lost because kids feel like there is no hope for them.”
School officials declined to discuss details surrounding the teen’s death, citing privacy concerns, but said “multiple interventions and communications have been and continue to be made” since receiving reports about the alleged bullying.
“This included intervention by administration, mental health staff three times a week, and assistance from the San Diego Police [Psychiatric Emergency Response Team] organization,” a school spokesperson told the station in a statement.
“We are concerned about cyber-bullying and the anonymous social network apps which protect the identity of the users. In this age of advancing social media technology, we continue to refine our policy and education for staff and students regarding cyber use and bullying.”